I’ll confess. I’ve been watching YouTube videos of art studios as I reorganize my own studio. January definitely seems to be the month to reorganize and get ready for a new year. My office—my writing and working space— is already organized and working well but I do love looking at other people’s work
One of my treasures is The Writer’s Desk, a book of duotone photographs of writers in their private workspaces taken by renowned author photographer, Jill Krementz. Next to each photograph is a paragraph or two written by each writer talking about how they do what they do. Krementz features fifty-five authors, including her husband, the late Kurt Vonnegut.
The photographs tell us more about the writers than the words ever could. For instance, Krementz captured that unforgettable Eudora Welty profile in 1972, against a sunny window as Miss Eudora sits at her desk in the bedroom typing on a manual typewriter. We can see the foot of her unmade bed– billows of white linen. Eudora Welty confessed that she rose early each day, got a cup of coffee and breakfast and settled in to work, hoping not to be interrupted for the whole day.
The photograph of Saul Bellow, taken in 1995, shows him standing at a drafting table, writing in longhand on a pad of paper. He said, “I feel that art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness which characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm. I think that art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction.”
Dorothy West, one of the members of the Harlem Renaissance, sits on a plastic lawn chair in front of a bulletin board overflowing with notes and a delightful fluttering hodge-podge of papers. She says, “I’m a writer. I don’t cook and I don’t clean. . . Dear child, this place is a mess– my papers are everywhere. It would be exhausting to clean up.”
John Irving leans back in a leather chair, hands steepled in thought. His office is organized and spacious with a wall of windows looking out on the Vermont landscape. His writing habits? He says that he has no routine but is compulsive about writing. In the beginning of a book, the work is tedious and exacting, and he only works two or three hours a day. In the middle, he gallops, writing “eight, nine, twelve hours, seven days a week.” Then as he nears the end, he goes back to those two- to three-hour days. He says, “Finishing, like beginning is more careful work.”
Stephen King, in a photograph taken in 1995, has his feet up on his desk, writing on a pad balanced on his lap. His corgi sits under his chair, looking straight at the camera. The room has piles and piles of books and files on every surface. His style? “I don’t take notes; I don’t outline; I don’t do anything like that. I just flail away at the [#@*#!] thing. . . I’m a salami writer. I try to write good salami, but salami is salami. You can’t sell it as caviar.”
So tell us, what does your workspace look like? What about your work habits? Do you have regular writing times? A set number of pages per day? Do you use a computer for everything or do you start with pen and paper? (And does the kind of pen matter?)